I’ve been told there are only seven basic plots. What amazes me, are the variations on those plots that writers come up with—the twists and leaps they make within those seven structures.
As part of my job, I am the first reader in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. The winner has his or her manuscript published by Tyndale House and receives $20,000. This year we received 140 entries. One conclusion is unmistakable—those who entered (all are Guild students or members) are creative people.
But what was also clear is that some of those professing to pursue professional writing are doing no such thing. Instead, they’re shooting themselves in the foot with unprofessional presentation.
What I found in our novel entries were typos on the first page—often within the first three paragraphs. Or, if not a typo, some kind of inappropriate formatting:
- A nonstandard typeface (use only Times New Roman or Courier, 12 pt)
- 1.5-line spacing rather than 2-line spacing
- Full justification instead of ragged right
- Margins set at something other than 1.25” all around.
All easily correctable.
The competition is stiff out there
Editors and agents have mounds of submissions on their desks to plow through. Why give them reasons to set yours aside—reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your story or the strength of your writing?
Our goal at the Guild is to train writers to develop their skills to the professional level editors expect. If you’re serious, you’ll take steps to ensure an editor won’t put your manuscript down.
- Join (or form) a critique group.
- Purchase, read, and use any of a number of excellent books on standard manuscript formatting.
- Proofread your work. Better yet, form a partnership with a writer friend and proof each other’s work. Then proof again—and again.
- Take classes. You can do this through writer’s conferences, online courses, or through a local university.
- Join a professional writer’s organization.
If you do these things, your take on one of the seven basic plots could end up published—rather than tossed in File 13.
For more on this topic, Les Stobbe, a longtime industry stalwart, recently shared from his perspective as one receiving those unprofessional book proposals. (Read his thoughts here.)